by Joe Kleinsasser - Wichita State University

It may not come as any surprise that there’s a shortage of male elementary teachers in the United States. But you may be surprised to learn how long the shortage has existed. Wichita State University education professor Dennis Kear explains.

Kear: “The shortage of male teachers can be traced all the way back to the Civil War. Approximately 600,000 soldiers died and they had to be replaced as far as the teachers among them, by females.”

Kear says there’s no indication that an end is in sight to the shortage of male elementary school teachers.

Kear: “In 1980, about 17 percent of elementary teachers were males, compared with 14.2 percent in today’s elementary classrooms, according to a NEA study.”

That’s not to say educators are unaware of the dilemma. Kear explains why there’s some concern over the shortage of male elementary school teachers.

Kear: “Some research suggests students of color perform better academically, personally and socially when they’re taught by teachers from their own ethnic groups. Recently a study has surfaced that suggests that boys may learn better from male teachers, and girls may learn better from female teachers.”

Put another way, when a man led the class, boys did better and girls did worse, according to one study. According to Kear, learning styles are of particular interest to educators.

Kear: “Learning styles is a major concern of educators today. We realize that students, both male and female, have different learning styles. And the concern of fewer males in the classroom is that students are denied that diversity of different teaching styles.”

There are multiple reasons why there’s a shortage of men in the elementary teaching field, but Kear says one reason stands out.

Kear: “Low salaries is the reason most often cited for fewer males going into teaching. However, states that have the highest teaching salaries also have the highest percentage of males in the classroom.”

“Other factors that are cited as reasons for why there are so few males going into teaching, especially in the elementary school — isolation, many elementary schools have one or two male teachers; pressure to move into administration coupled out with the fact that 51 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years; and finally, coaching sports is something that many males feel pressure to move into, and teaching in the elementary school, which usually goes later in the day, cuts off those males from access to coaching sports.”

Bryan Nelson, founder of MenTeach, a nonprofit clearinghouse promoting the recruitment of male teachers, said: “Children are missing out on different teaching approaches, alternative authority figures, and male role models because there are so few male teachers. Children are also getting a powerful message that teaching is something men just do not do. There is a lot more status associated with being a college professor than an elementary school teacher.”